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There's a working model for managing in Boston

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 20, 2011

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It’s not that an inexperienced manager can’t succeed in any market or in any situation, whether the team is rebuilding or in win-it-all mode.

The hiring of Dale Sveum with the Cubs, Robin Ventura with the White Sox, and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals indicates a trend toward youth and inexperience.

But this is Boston.

Boston requires a manager with some backbone, background, and one who won’t need on-the-job training. It’s common sense that in this situation you would have to be interested in Bobby Valentine or Gene Lamont or Larry Bowa. Those guys have seen it all.

And those who disagree with that will throw out the name of Dick Williams, who led the 1967 Red Sox to the Impossible Dream season after having managed their Triple A team. But that was 1967, not 2012.

Williams became a Hall of Famer. Obviously, he had to start somewhere. Same for Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, and Bobby Cox, etc.

And Kenny Williams, the affable general manager of the White Sox, recently told us that not only does he feel comfortable with the inexperienced Ventura as his new manager, his previous manager, Ozzie Guillen, had been a Marlins coach before being hired.

“For us, naming Robin was the right move,’’ Williams said. “He’s off the charts with leadership and baseball awareness. It amounted to years of conversations I had with him. Sometimes I’d be sitting in the room listening and by the time we needed someone it was pretty evident to all of us who that person needed to be. That’s not disrespecting those who have done their time; people would have felt better if Ventura had coached third base for the last two years. Is that necessary when you have an exceptional leader of men?’’

Williams did acknowledge, however, that he may not have made the move had he not had a strong pitching coach in Don Cooper.

“As much as I have confidence in Robin and his ability to grasp that aspect of it, I told him handling a pitching staff is the most difficult thing to do,’’ said Williams. “We have to have the right people on the bench. I asked if he wanted a more veteran guy sitting next to him. He said, ‘No, I want Mark Parent.’ After talking to Mark and getting to know him, I realized he’s going to be a major league manager. Joe McEwing is going to be a major league manager. Robin is surrounded with major league coaching talent. I just have to figure out the player talent.’’

The St. Louis situation is interesting because it’s a team that just won a World Series with an iconic manager. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak had the chance to hire Terry Francona, but opted instead for youth and inexperience in Matheny. Why?

It’s safe. Next year’s roster will still be very good, if they keep Albert Pujols and if Adam Wainwright, who missed all of last season, returns in top form.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are coming off a season in which they suffered a 7-20 collapse. The front office must have felt it was epic because the organization is undergoing a major makeover.

The underlying issue was discipline, or lack thereof. Is that a place for a young manager?

“Boston is the most unique situation in baseball. Everything from the ballpark, the scrutiny, the media, the fans,’’ said one National League GM. “Sure, you might come up with the next great manager if you go with a young, inexperienced guy, but if it fails there, it’s really ugly. Every failure is magnified that much more.’’

For instance, how did young Butch Hobson work out in Boston?

GMs are getting younger and are preferring younger managers. We’ve written about organizational managing, where front-office types recommend lineups based on statistical analysis. The younger and less-experienced guys can take that input better than an older, established manager.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been able to manage the team as I see fit,’’ said the Tigers’ Jim Leyland. “So I don’t know about trends about front office interfering because I’ve never experienced that.’’

Williams indicated that a GM’s background influences his managerial choices. Because Williams was a player, he said he wasn’t afraid to take the leap with Guillen, and now Ventura. Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said when Guillen was still playing, “He’s the smartest player I’ve ever seen.’’ Williams obviously saw the same.

“I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t spend time as a player in Toronto sitting on the bench with Galen Ciscoand Cito Gaston,’’ said Williams. “I wouldn’t be standing here today, because I learned about pitching, I learned about mechanics. I learned about hitting. I learned what the managers and coaches do in all the peripheral things regarding the game, and I managed every day on my own. And [Blue Jays owner] Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick were open-minded and giving in their advice and their wisdom. I’ve got a little bit of an advantage in that respect. These guys we have now brought in are teachers and leaders, and it wasn’t so long ago, when I hired Ozzie I heard, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ ’’

Maybe the Red Sox will hire that guy. Maybe it’s Torey Lovullo or Sandy Alomar Jr.

Maybe Ben Cherington wants to put his own mark on this hire, pick someone with whom he’s most comfortable. But it would be unlike Cherington not to explore those with experience, such as Valentine, Lamont, Jim Riggleman, Don Baylor, Willie Randolph, and others.

When the Red Sox hired Francona, he was someone who had managed in a big market (Philadelphia) as well as coached in various settings. He had also managed the media circus that was Michael Jordan’s baseball stint in Birmingham, Ala. He was well-prepared. There was no learning on the job. It worked well for seven of the eight years he was here.

Yes, you can find the next big thing. But in Boston, it needs to be a sure thing.

Duquette out to play it smart

Dan Duquette walked around like the Lone Ranger at the recently concluded GM meetings in Milwaukee. There was no Baltimore media around the new Orioles GM, virtually the only one there without at least one media member covering him.

That part didn’t bother Duquette, who has a lot on his plate.

Asked about the resources in Baltimore, Duquette said, “We have to be smarter and work harder than other teams in the AL East who have more resources. If you took a $13 million payroll I had in Montreal and took $170 million the Red Sox have and add that together and divide by two, that would be about us.

“We have to make good choices. Other teams have done it in the industry and done it consistently and built a top organization. We have to do the same thing in Baltimore. The market has changed in Baltimore, there are two teams in that market. We have a beautiful new ballpark. The fans are great, they’re just dying for something to root for.

“I do know this, this is a franchise that drew 3 million fans at one time, and last year they drew 1.7 million. The fan base is there, we have to get them out to the ballpark. All of their minor league teams are within a two-hour driving range from Camden Yards, so if we can build our player development, they can watch our younger players.’’

Duquette did meet with Fern Cuza, David Ortiz’s agent, at the meetings. Duquette and Cuza have been close over the years, with Duquette working out deals for Pedro Martinez, another Cuza client. Ortiz would be an intriguing figure at Camden Yards.

Duquette is also in the process of hiring some staff. He needs a scouting director, a bullpen coach, and front office personnel, though he won’t be able to hire an assistant general manager. He wants to be able to hire some of the people he once worked with in Boston, but “they’re all working for other teams.’’

“I believe you get the best people around you and turn them loose on the things they like to do,’’ he said. “I am big on people being strong in what they do. Titles don’t matter to me.’’

Pitching coach has tough duty

Sure, the manager job is tough to fill in Boston, but you know what vacancy might be tougher? Pitching coach. Who will be the pitching coach for a staff that needs a good kick in the pants?

There aren’t many candidates. We’ve written a lot about Rick Peterson in this space, a mechanics guru who ties his program with Dr. James Andrews’s lab in Birmingham, Ala. Peterson’s approach would have to be system-wide, where all pitchers have their deliveries evaluated and then programs are designed specifically for them.

Another interesting name is Dave Wallace, Boston’s pitching coach before John Farrell. He’s the guy who kept the five-man starting rotation intact (no missed starts) in 2004. Wallace has an amazing history of keeping his staffs healthy. He was once Bobby Valentine’s pitching coach with the Mets, and they did not suffer a major pitching injury in 2000 when they lost the World Series.

Wallace oversaw a rotation of Mike Hampton, Al Leiter, Glendon Rusch, Rick Reed, and Bobby Jones. Only Jones did not make 30 starts, finishing with 27.

Over the last three years, Wallace, who still lives in the Boston area, has been the minor league pitching coordinator for the Braves, and impressive pitchers have come through the system under his watch, including Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado, Mike Miner, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino.

The Red Sox recently hired Bob McClure to be their minor league pitching coordinator after he was fired as the Royals’ pitching coach after the season. McClure could easily rise to the major league pitching coach job depending on the desires of the new manager.

Apropos of nothing

1. The Cubs should give up outfielder Tyler Colvin to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein and call it a day; 2. OK, this is Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s breakout year, right?; 3. How come there were no fallouts, scandals, and assorted nonsense with the Braves, who collapsed as badly as the Red Sox?; 4. Since there were no jobs left anyway, why did Terry Francona say he wouldn’t manage in 2012?; 5. There’s no way Albert Pujols goes to the Marlins, right?

Updates on nine

1. Roy Oswalt, RHP, free agent - The Red Sox and Yankees have weighed in on the veteran, who would be a welcome addition to either staff. The Sox could use some leadership in the rotation and Oswalt would be a good choice if the price wasn’t prohibitive. Oswalt’s agent, Bob Garber, spoke to Ben Cherington last Wednesday.

2. Joe Saunders, LHP, Diamondbacks - Arizona will make a tough decision on whether to tender Saunders, who hasn’t lived up to his billing since the Dan Haren deal with the Angels. Whether Saunders is tendered or not, he becomes an interesting possibility for the Red Sox as they try to find a fourth or fifth starter. Saunders could be projected to earn in the high-$5 million range in arbitration. Saunders, a sinkerballer, is only 30, and went 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.307 WHIP last season.

3. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, free agent - The Cuban slugger was worked out by the Red Sox on Friday. Though he has five-tool ability, it’s not known whether he can be effective vs. major league pitching. Cespedes has faced mostly pitchers who throw in the mid-80s, which is why teams like the Phillies and Red Sox have held private workouts. Said one scout who watched him last week, “He has too long of a swing for me. He could strike out a lot. He reminds me of Wily Mo Pena a little with his power, but whether you can devote those kinds of dollars and project him as a top major league player, that’s quite a leap of faith.’’

4. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs - Epstein will listen to offers on Garza and just about anyone on his team. The reason? Epstein needs players to fill his farm system. The Cubs likely are not going to be really competitive for a while, so rather than keep resources that won’t be able to make your team better instantly, why not trade assets for younger players until that moment comes? Epstein always coveted Garza when he was Red Sox GM. Will Cherington take a shot?

5. Mark Buehrle, LHP, White Sox - It doesn’t seem logical that the Cubs would have significant interest in Buehrle. Ken Williams, meanwhile, said that while he would love to keep Buehrle, he doesn’t feel the White Sox’ budget allows for it, unless he’s able to trade away some of his players (such as John Danks or Gavin Floyd, and Carlos Quentin for starters). Buehrle, however, already has a significant market even if he doesn’t return to Chicago. The Red Sox and Yankees appear interested.

6. Frank McCourt, owner, Dodgers - If McCourt messed up the Dodgers so much, why will he come away with $1.2-1.4 billion by selling the team in a bad economy after making a $430 million investment? We know the Watertown native has gone through a messy divorce, has had some strange financial dealings, and had the team taken over by Major League Baseball. But in the end, after McCourt pays his ex-wife $130 million, and pays off his debts, he will walk away with a pretty hefty profit and will keep some 300 acres of land around Dodger Stadium that he will likely develop.

7. Alex Rios, OF, White Sox - Asked Williams if Rios’s lack of production kept him up at night. “No, Alex before last year was a .280 career hitter, 20-plus homers, around 40 stolen bases. Last year was down offensively and defensively, but people don’t realize he had some injuries that slowed him down,’’ said Williams. “He still has the talent to perform. Hope it comes out again or somebody else is gonna be playing. As I told Ozzie [Guillen] last year, ‘Play the people who deserve to play and help you win. Don’t worry about the contract; that’s my problem.’ ’’

8. Rafael Furcal, SS, free agent - With Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins likely eating up the major free agent dollars, Furcal is going to be a fairly affordable option for a team such as the Pirates or Phillies. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said shortstop will be his next focus after signing Jonathan Papelbon. One alternative for the Phils is to go with youngster Freddy Galvis, if they feel they have enough offense at other positions.

9. Dale Sveum, manager, Cubs - Sveum’s personality wouldn’t have gone over in Boston. He’s a nice guy with great baseball passion, but very quiet and not someone who could take the attention away from his team and put it on himself, which is what managers need to do in big markets. He’s better for the Cubs in a rebuilding mode. That’s the way one Major League Baseball executive put it recently. I think he’s right.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “The Marlins’ Wes Helms has played 1,212 career games, but the 12 that is more interesting to me is the 12 times he has been thrown out stealing in only 15 career attempts.’’ Also, “There were only eight players this season who had at least 15 homers, 25 doubles, five triples, 15 steals, and 70 RBIs, and one of them was free agent and future Hall of Famer Johnny Damon, who at 38 is still a good buy.’’ . . . Happy 36th birthday, J.D. Drew, and 75th to Jay Ritchie.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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